Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Discover the Downside To The Dream Job

Chapter 5: The Pivotal Role Of Circumstance Part 12

In the last post, we talked Mary’s excitement in her first job out of grad school working for a small, rapidly growing company. They quickly established a dominant position in the market, and it had a “familyish” atmosphere.

Describing herself at the time, Mary laughs. “I was very green.”

For Mary and many others, the President was the embodiment of the company. He was charismatic, smart, and visionary. In monthly company meetings, he would lay out his inspiring vision for how the company was going to change the world, and when he spoke, it was almost impossible not to give him your full attention.
At a scientific conference, the President once riveted a room of top scientists with an inspirational talk about a friend of his with cancer, who was receiving the same nasty chemotherapy treatment that had been used for 30 years. “We need to make sure that 30 years from now, there are better options available.”
More importantly, he made an effort to say people’s names and say hello in the hallway. Mary describes her memory of the President.

“He was almost a father figure, an uncle. He fostered a love of the company, you felt that you belonged.”

So to recap, Mary was in her first position out of graduate school, at a small company with exciting products that were successful in the marketplace, which was led by a charismatic, visionary leader.  In many ways, it was a dream job.

This is the second draft of this post, and the question I got to the first one was: dude, what’s the problem with having   a dream job?  You make it sound like she was doing something wrong.

No, she did nothing wrong.  Anyone in that circumstance would have been very devoted to the company.  But remember a few posts ago?  Mary later described herself as “thirty, single, and killing herself for the company.”  Ultimately, she found the dream job unfulfilling because she was alone.

So can the job ever be enough?  In other words, if you have your dream job, will that bring happiness and fulfillment if it is the best thing in your life. A dream job is a wonderful thing.  But if you are not ok without the dream job, you won’t be ok with it either.  People are happy when they have connections to other people.

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Disruptive Technology Plus Rapid Growth Equals Excess Devotion, For the Newbie

Chapter 5: The Role of Circumstance Part 11

In the last post, we met Mary, who enthusiastically embraced the corporate life after graduate school and was shocked when the first layoffs hit.  It is perfectly understandable that early in her career, Mary did not understand the business realities, especially coming from a different set of realities.

As a science graduate student, she worked independently on her project, with a large peer group of fellow grad students to commiserate with.  There was no overall institutional loyalty – a graduate student is part of a scientist’s lab, who in many cases could care less about what you think of them or the institution.  In fact, many a graduate advisor hates the institution for all the bureaucracy.  Personal identity does not become intertwined with the institution.

A corporation is a completely different environment.  It’s about making money for the company, and working with other people towards a common goal.  At work Mary was surrounded by signals that re-enforced her attachment to the company, and she was caught up in the gung-ho attitude of trying to change the world.

The customers were almost all of the top twenty pharmaceutical companies, which reinforced her perception that the company was helping to revolutionize drug discovery.  (See this post on the illusion of control.) And, these companies were a very lucrative source of revenue.  At one point, the stock price was going up 20 to 30 points a day, and everyone was talking about it.  You could literally hear people screaming out numbers and cheering from their cubes.   One of the founders, whose major contribution at the time was surfing porn sites, was once seen dancing down the hall chanting the company name.

The core of Mary’s devotion, though, came from the company President, who was energetic and visionary.

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